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Featured VOD Review: GLOW: Season 1

June 20th, 2017

GLOW: Season 1 - Watch on Netflix: Video on Demand

GLOW

GLOW is a new Netflix TV show loosely based on the real-life G.L.O.W., a.k.a. Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a late 1980s female wrestling show. It is a fictional account of how G.L.O.W. got started, but is it worth checking out? Does it take this obviously sensational material and create real drama? Or is it exploitative and do a disservice to G.L.O.W.’s legacy?

The Show

Alison Brie stars as Ruth Wilder, an aspiring actress. We first see her at an audition, which doesn’t go well. She reads the man’s part, when she is auditioning for the secretary role. Afterwards, she approaches... or ambushes the casting director in the lady’s bathroom. She’s desperate for a job, because if she doesn’t get one soon, she will have to move out of Los Angeles and go back home. On the other hand, Ruth’s best friend, Debbie Eagan, is closer to the other end of her career. She got a job on a soap opera years ago and became a fan favorite. However, she recently retired to have a baby with her husband, Mark. The transition from soap opera star to new mother has been a little hard on her, and it will get harder when she finds out Ruth and Mark are having an affair.

Ruth gets some good news when the casting director calls saying there’s an audition calling for “unconventional women”. When she arrives there, there are plenty of women, some more unconventional than others. The director for this project is Sam Sylvia, who is clearly doing this for the paycheck. He explains what the job is. It’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Women fighting women in wrestling matches. He flat out tells the women if they are not interested in that, then they should leave. About half of them do. One of them, makes it about three steps before coming back. Sam announces those who have stayed have passed the first round of the auditions. Next up is the headshot.

We are introduced to a number of the wrestlers, some of whom will get character arcs in the show, like Cherry Bang. Cherry is the only one of the group who knows Sam, as they both had careers in movies before this. However, she’s a stuntwoman and hasn’t acted before, so Sam’s skeptical. She gets an impressive arc throughout the show’s ten-episode first season run. The hairdressers, Dawn and Stacey, are more or less comedic relief and are the Sara and Mabel analogues. (Sara and Mabel were characters in the original G.L.O.W.) When it’s Ruth’s turn, she makes a bad first impression. She’s a trained actress, so Sam dislikes her right away. He’s a director. He doesn’t like actors. So when Sam starts cutting women, Ruth decides she has to do something to stand out. She convinces her partner, Carmen Wade, that they need to do something to stand out, so she suggests they come up with a backstory for their characters, like in real wrestling. This pisses off Sam no end so he first decides to fire them both, because they couldn’t follow basic instructions. When Ruth complains, he decides to fire only one of them, depending on which one can give him the best reason to keep her. Ruth points out that she’s a real actress and will sell whatever she is asked to do. Carmen points out her dad is Goliath Jackson, who is a wrestling legend, while both of her brothers are also star wrestlers. With that, Ruth is fired.

Ruth decides she’s not fired. She shows up the next day dressed as a wrestler and ready to show Sam he’s wrong about her. Ruth starts to put on a show, but Sam’s unimpressed... until Debbie shows up. Turns out Mark confessed everything and now Debbie wants to put the beatdown on Ruth. It’s at this moment that Sam finally has his vision for GLOW. You can’t just have women wrestling; you need good guys for them to cheer for and villains they can boo. He knows Ruth has to be part of the show, but he has to get Debbie as well.

GLOW

Let’s see if I can place these characters in their G.L.O.W. roles. Debbie is Liberty, while Cherry Bang is Justice; although those two were tag team partners, so maybe Debbie is Americana. Ruth takes a while to find her character, but winds up with Ninotchka. I thought Rhonda would be Godiva, since the character is British, but in the end, she was more like Zelda. I mentioned Dawn and Stacey are Sara and Mabel. Sheila the She Wolf is Stinky, only she’s a wolf and not a skunk. Carmen Wade is obviously Mount Fiji, while Jennie is Little Fiji, I guess. There’s no really good match for her. Melrose is Melody Trouble Vixen, a.k.a. MTV. Arthie is Palestina and Reggie Walsh is Daisy. Sebastian “Bash” Howard is Johnny C., the announcer / fictional owner, while Sam Sylvia is Matt Cimber, the creator of the original show. This does mean I can’t place Tammé, played by real life wrestler Kia Stevens. Given her real life persona, I would put her as Attila the Hun. This leaves Justine, played by Britt Baron, as the only one I can’t really match; although given her character’s arc, this isn’t surprising.

On a side note, I had to look up a couple of names, including the creator of the original show, and look at a few images to place some of the characters, but almost all of this was done by memory. I’ve forgotten my own birthday once and if you ask me how old I am, I have a 50/50 chance of being off by a year or two, but I remember nearly every major character from the original G.L.O.W. nearly 30 years after it ended.

So, does GLOW live up to the original show? Yes. Absolutely yes. This show could have gone wrong in so many different ways, from being exploitative to treating the women as objects of derision, or objects in general. One of the issues with G.L.O.W. was the male gaze being a relatively large part of the show. That’s mostly gone now, mostly. A bad writer could have wanted the audience to laugh at the women, not respect and cheer for them and this would have killed the show, in my opinion. That’s not to say the women are treated as saints; there’s no way anyone can call Ruth a saint after what she does in the pilot episode. On the other hand, the show doesn’t take the subject matter too seriously. No one who has seen G.L.O.W. would take it really serious, as it is ridiculous at its heart. It was meant to be fun entertainment and this show does a great job at selling that premise. In fact, after binge-watching this show, I wanted to watch some old G.L.O.W. matches.

Not every character gets a well-developed arc, because there’s only so much time in an ten-episode season, but most do. Ruth is the lead and her journey to find her character, and herself, is the central part of the show and Alison Brie’s performance is a major reason the show works as well as it does. She’s not as good or as talented as she thinks she is, but she’s at least willing to work to be better in both regards, so we can empathize with her and she draws us into the show. Once you are drawn in, the talented and diverse ensemble will keep you engaged, no matter which character gets the spotlight that particular scene / episode. Cherry Bang gets a particularly strong arc as a stuntwoman longing for some recognition. Carmen Wade’s arc involves her family. While her father’s a wrestling legend, he doesn’t want his daughter to follow in his footsteps. The character drama is mixed with some very funny moments and it ads up to a very engaging show.

Not everything works, on the other hand. There are a couple of moments where the male gaze is a little too much. Also, there are a couple of nude scenes in the pilot that feel really out of place. It’s like the nudity is there, not because it adds anything to the show, but because it is on Netflix, so they can have it. There are also some racial elements in the show, as some of the, how to put this, non-white wrestlers are given really stereotypical characters, more so than in the original show. (There were some stereotypes used; one of the main bad wrestlers was a Russian. Most of the time it was the “good” girl next door type vs. the “bad” party girls.) The show addresses this issue, at least a little. I do hope it is addressed further next season. Overall, it’s a minor problem and not one that hurts the replay value.

The Verdict

GLOW: Season 1 is a blast to watch and it is well-worth binge-watching on Netflix. However, it doesn’t start until Friday, so in the meantime, check out GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wresting, which is available on DVD or Netflix.

Filed under: Video Review, Ellen Wong, Marianna Palka, Chris Lowell, Alison Brie, Rich Sommer, Rebekka Johnson, Kate Nash, Marc Maron, Kimmy Gatewood, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Jackie Tohn, Amy Farrington, Gayle Rankin, Sunita Mani, Britney Young
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